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U.S. Supreme Court overrules panel of judges who blocked U.S House map over 2nd majority-black district

High court’s decision will leave map in place for 2022 election but allows challenge to map to continue

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has overruled a panel of Alabama federal judges who ordered state legislators to redraw the state’s U.S. House map to create a second majority-black district.

The decision is a victory for Republican members of Alabama’s U.S. House delegation, who can now proceed with their re-election plans without the daunting prospect of running in unfamiliar territory.

Alabama U.S. House map blocked by federal court

In a 5-to-4 decision issued February 8, the high court did not rule on the underlying legal dispute over whether Alabama’s map violated the Voting Rights Act. But the majority said forcing legislators to redraw it before May’s primary, with candidate qualifying underway, would be too disruptive to the process.

“When an election is close at hand, the rules of the road must be clear and settled,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote explaining the majority’s reasoning. “Late judicial tinkering with election laws can lead to disruption and to unanticipated and unfair consequences for candidates, political parties, and voters.”

However, Chief Justice John Roberts — who voted with the court’s four liberal members against giving the state a stay of the lower court ruling — said the lower court had “properly applied” the standard for evaluating voting rights challenges “with no apparent errors for our correction.”

The Supreme Court’s order did not invalidate the determination of the lower court that the map was illegally drawn but stayed the order striking down the map until the case can be fully adjudicated — likely with another trip up to the Supreme Court.

On January 24, a panel of three federal judges — which included two judges appointed by Donald Trump — tossed out the map drawn by state legislators that contained six heavily Republican districts and one majority black district, following the general contours of the map in place since 2011.

The judges noted that the black voting age population in Alabama is 27%, while having one black Congress member out of seven results in 14% representation. With two black members, participation and the voting age population would match, and the judges told legislators that “any remedial plan will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

The decision would almost certainly have meant another Democrat joining the state’s seven-member House delegation, forcing one of the five sitting Republicans seeking re-election to either run in unfamiliar territory in North Alabama or launch a primary challenge to one of their GOP colleagues to stay in office.

Attorney General Steve Merrill immediately appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, saying he “strongly disagreed” with the judges’ conclusion that the map ran afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act.

The ruling also had implications in neighboring Louisiana, which has an even higher black voting age population but just one black member of Congress in a six-member delegation. (Adding a second black-majority district in Louisiana would slightly overrepresent the state’s black voting age population because of its lower number of seats.)

With the ruling in the Alabama case, it would appear that the high court would be unlikely to sustain a similar challenge in Louisiana.

If the courts eventually order creation of second majority-black district, the change would likely have the biggest effect in South Alabama. The current majority-black 7th District, represented by Democrat Terri Sewell, includes black voters in Birmingham and Montgomery but not in Mobile, which has a black majority that could be the core of a new district.

Another possibility would be creating a seat similar to a district in southwest Georgia, which includes enough of the area’s rural black population to elect black Democrat Sanford Bishop, who has held the seat since it was created in 1992.

Prior to 2013, the Biden Justice Department would have needed to clear Alabama’s U.S. House map before it could have gone into effect. But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which pushed map challenges into federal courts.

The judges who struck down Alabama’s map were Trump-appointed U.S. District Judges Terry Moorer, from the Southern District of Alabama, and Anna Manasco, from the Northern District, and 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stanley Marcus, who was appointed to the Atlanta-based appeals court by President Bill Clinton.

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Conservative firebrand U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks enters Alabama U.S. Senate race

Announcement comes less than 3 months after Brooks exhorted pro-Trump crowd to “start kicking ass” prior to Capitol riot

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks entered the chase for Alabama’s open U.S. Senate seat Monday with a campaign kickoff where he wrapped himself firmly in the mantle of Donald Trump as he tries to navigate what is likely to become a crowded primary field.

Brooks announced his candidacy at a rally in Huntsville where shared the stage with Stephen Miller — a Trump aide who was the architect of Trump’s restrictive immigration policies — and continued to promote the former president’s unfounded claims of election fraud.

“In 2020, America suffered the worst voter fraud and election theft in history,” Brooks said. “And all Americans would know that if the news media was not suppressing the truth as they’re doing.”

Brooks also noted that he had been endorsed twice by Trump in his congressional campaigns and helped Trump fight what he termed “defamatory, hyper-partisan impeachment scams.”

“As President Trump can vouch, I don’t cut and run,” Brooks said. ” I stand strong when the going gets tough.”

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Alabama, announces campaign for U.S. Senate (WZDX News)

Brooks, 66, has represented Alabama’s 5th U.S. House District, which covers the northern part of the state, since 2011. He made an unsuccessful bid for the state’s other Senate seat in 2017, coming in third in the GOP primary.

The announcement of his latest campaign comes less than three months after Brooks addressed pro-Trump rally in Washington on January 6 in which he told the crowd, “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.”

Members of the crowd later stormed the Capitol, resulting in at least five deaths and more than 400 people facing criminal charges.

Brooks has remained unrepentant and refused to apologize, saying he doesn’t believe there is any relationship between his remarks at the rally and the subsequent riot. However, he is facing at least one lawsuit so far over the speech.

Ironically, when Brooks ran for the Senate in 2017, he was criticized for being insufficiently supportive of Trump because of remarks he made about then-candidate Trump in 2016 after release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump bragged about being sexually aggressive toward women.

Since then, however, Brooks has been one of Trump’s staunchest and most outspoken defenders in Congress and supported Trump’s assertions of voter fraud in the 2020 election, which have been summarily rejected by courts and investigators.

The Senate seat is opening because of the retirement of Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

Lynda Blanchard, who served as Trump’s ambassador to Slovenia, is already in the race and, like Brooks, playing up her ties to the former president.

Also considering getting into the Republican primary are Secretary of State John Merrill and Katie Britt, the CEO of the Business Council of Alabama.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, the lone Democrat in the Yellowhammer State’s congressional delegation, is also considering a run, although the race is likely to be an uphill battle for any Democrat.

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Alabama U.S. House scramble: Roby retirement opens 2nd seat as reapportionment loss looms

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby’s surprise decision to leave Congress further upsets the state’s congressional apple cart

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Republican U.S. Rep. Martha Roby surprised the political world Friday by announcing that she won’t seek re-election in 2020, leaving two of the Yellowhammer State’s seven House seats open during next year’s election.

And as large fields of Republicans scramble in primaries for those seats, they’ll do so with the expectation that one of them could have but a brief stay in Congress, depending on how the political cards fall following the 2020 U.S. Census.

Based on current population projections, Alabama is set to lose one of its seven seats during the next reapportionment. Because of the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, the lost seat is almost sure to be one of the six Republicans now hold, rather than the lone Democratic seat held by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell in the majority black 7th District.

That will leave six Republicans competing for five seats, which means two of them will have to run against each other if none of them step aside. State legislators will draw new district lines in 2021, which will go into effect for the 2022 election.

In 2020, the 1st District seat, which includes Mobile and Lower Alabama, is open because U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is running for the U.S. Senate. Roby’s departure now opens the 2nd District seat, which includes Montgomery and the southeastern corner of the state.

U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Alabama

Roby, just 43 and in her fourth term in Congress, was elected in the GOP sweep in 2010. Her decision to leave Congress came just two days after she questioned special counsel Robert Mueller on national television during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

She is one of just 13 Republican women in Congress, the party’s lowest level of female representation in 25 years.

In a statement announcing her retirement, Roby thanked her constituents for the “tremendous privilege and honor” of representing them in Washington but did not offer an explanation for her decision to leave.

“Throughout my five terms in Congress, I have cast every vote with the guiding principle that Alabama always comes first,” she said. “While my name will not be on the ballot in 2020, I remain committed to continuing the fight for Alabama and the people I represent until I cast my last vote on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.“

Roby has faced unexpected competition in her last two re-election bids after she called on Donald Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race when the infamous Access Hollywood tape — in which he can be heard bragging about groping women — came to light

In the 2016 general election, Roby was held to less than 50 percent of the vote in her strongly Republican district after nearly 30,000 angry Trump fans wrote in someone else. In 2018, she was challenged in the GOP primary and forced into a runoff, which she won after getting Trump’s support.

Had she run in 2020, Roby would have been on the ballot with Trump — which would have prompted uncomfortable questions about her current and evolving views on the commander-in-chief.

Republicans will be heavily favored to keep both of the open seats in 2020. But after reapportionment, those two freshmen may need legislators to draw a favorable map and then defeat another incumbent in order to survive.

State legislators are required to draw districts that have equal populations. However, because there will be six seats instead of seven, the population of those districts will need to be larger, which could force a wholesale redrawing of the map statewide.

The Voting Rights Act requires the drawing of majority-minority districts whenever possible, which should protect much of Sewell’s district, although it will need to expand.

Federal law does not require a House candidate to actually live in the district where he or she runs. However, running in new territory is much more difficult and counteracts the benefits of incumbency.

Currently, there are four GOP districts centered on the state’s major population centers — Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery and Huntsville. Two other districts cover more rural areas in eastern and western Alabama.

Given that urban areas of the state, particularly Huntsville, are growing faster than rural areas, the rural districts would seem to be more at risk. However, the two men who represent them — Mike Rogers in the 3rd District and Robert Aderholt in the 4th District — have been in Congress much longer than the other incumbents and could have more pull with state legislators when it comes time to draw new maps.

Aderholt was elected in 1996; Rogers, in 2002.

The 5th District Huntsville seat is held by Mo Brooks, elected in 2010. The 6th District seat metro Birmingham seat is held by Gary Palmer, elected in 2014.

Alabama is one of two Southern states expected to lose seats during the 2020 reapportionment, along with West Virginia. Texas is expected to pick up three seats; Florida, 2; and North Carolina, 1. The other Southern states will retain their current represenation.

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